If there's a single idea that has defined the politics of the last 70 years it is the notion of "the center."
What constituted the center of American politics has always been up for debate. Did the center mean mushy moderation? Was it the "reasonable" midpoint between the right and left where most American voters clustered? Was it a set of clear principles most Americans rallied around? Or was the center whatever positions could win over enough people who called themselves "centrists" or "independents"?
The truth is, it varied from one political moment to another. Politics is about building coalitions of support, and how that is done can change with the times and the personality.
Some politicians had the base in their pockets and needed to persuade the moderates, like Reagan in 1980. Some politicians had the moderates in their pocket but needed to persuade the base that their heart was in the right place, like
But this idea that each party had to win over enough of the great American middle in order to be the majority party informed pretty much every presidential election since the end of World War II.
All of that seems to have vanished.
The bizarre irony is that Trump is less extreme on (some) policy issues than media coverage might lead you to believe. Trump doesn't want to touch entitlements, and neither do most voters. When pressed, most Americans don't like it when NFL players kneel for the national anthem. On countless other issues, from trade and foreign policy to immigration, Trump's underlying positions are much less controversial than the way he talks about them and the way he handles them. Most Americans don't want immigration increased, and most Americans don't like the way Trump talks about immigrants. Most Americans don't want to see Confederate statues toppled, and I suspect that most Americans don't like the way he talks about that issue either.
As we've seen in recent primaries,
I don't think Trump created this dynamic, but he's accelerating it.
Much of this political transformation is downstream of a demographic transformation. Because of what has been called "the big sort," Blue America is becoming bluer, and Red America is becoming redder. Thus, the political incentive for most politicians isn't to cultivate the center to cobble together a majority coalition, but to gin up the base as much as possible.
For both parties, the notion of appealing to the center, or simply expanding their coalitions, faded from collective memory. The challenge for the